Should Albums Really Be Reviewed Right as They Come Out?
I recently had the pleasure of writing a hybrid review/interview about Kacey Musgraves’ new album, Pageant Material, for The Houston Press. It’s a lovely LP, but timeliness standards being as they’ve always been, I had to consume it like I was competing in a Coney Island hot dog-eating contest, versus simply savoring a bratwurst. What ensued—although it didn’t necessarily show up in my piece—was me nitpicking the thing to death. But had I listened to it casually, I would have simply thought it was a great fucking record.
Why is it that album reviews are rushed to market in the days leading up to their release? While a handful of record companies are great about sending out promotional copies months in advance, this isn’t the norm. The reality is that many records are “growers”—music you need to sit with for awhile to really appreciate edges both shiny and rough.
I wrote about one such record, James McMurtry’s Complicated Game, exhaustively on this site awhile back. For me, a McMurtry diehard, it was instant bliss. But for casual listeners, I can understand how it might have been something of a slower burn. Jamie Lin Wilson’s Holidays & Wedding Rings is another grower. I liked it when I first heard it, but I love it now. “Old Oldsmobile” is a gorgeous, poignant album capper about a surprise third baby and the glue that binds a truly committed couple, while “Just Some Things” grapples with a fleeting affair and the regret two married people feel for having strayed. The latter ballad features some of the most dexterous harmonizing I’ve ever heard, with Wilson—an elite and unique vocal talent who sounds like a less smoky Allison Moorer—and Wade Bowen swapping high and low parts like they’re flipping coins in the studio.
Other exceptional growers I’ve heard lately are Noah Gundersen’s Carry the Ghost and Six String Drag’s Roots Rock ’n Roll, albums that are in heavy rotation in my car (still the best way to listen to music in Seattle, with perpetually heavy traffic providing a unique opportunity to focus) alongside the likes of critical heavyweights like Musgraves and Jason Isbell. Music writers trip all over themselves writing about that pair ASAFP, with reactions tending to be too breathless or visceral. Think about the one you’re with, though: Sure, some people are hooked at first sight, but usually it takes a little time to realize what you love about someone, or something. The same standard should apply to writing about records, but it probably never will.